This evening I went to a panel discussion on the EU called something like “What if Europe succeeded”. It was a fairly cerebral event, and if anyone in the audience felt the EU is a bad thing, they didn’t feel free to say it. So we were all in our bubbles with people who thought the same as we do. Plenty of opportunity to practice desire-to-learn curiosity. Less opportunity to practice interpersonal curiosity, trying genuinely to understand different points of view.
Today I had several opportunities to experience interest at least, which I always feel is a cousin to curiosity. Mainly, I attended a presentation this evening on the E.U. General Data Protection Regulation and its impact on small business owners. That was interesting because (a) it is new to me and (b) it will affect how I run my business as of May 25, 2018. I also had the opportunity to practice more interest (can one practice interest the way one can practice curiosity?) when we went out for drinks afterwards. Three people in the group I had never met before, all non-native English speakers, two of them with accents that made it difficult for me to understand what they were saying. To listen with the intent of genuinely understanding was tiring!
Only 64 days to go and today was the perfect example of how easy it would be to forget about curiosity practice if I weren’t posting daily. It was a productive day and at the same time a pleasant day without too much pressure. I just got on with things. Late afternoon I suddenly realized I had not thought about curiosity or curiosity practice all day. And in the end, I didn’t manage to find any particular practice to do. All I can say is that I thought about it. Ah, well.
Day 300 already! Only 65 days left. I must start pulling up my socks and really practicing curiosity. Less thinking and writing about it.
Today I actually did just that. I was browsing through Facebook and saw a post from a friend of mine asking, “Are peanut butter and mayo really as good together as everyone says?” I found myself thinking first “Who on earth says that? I’ve never heard it before” and then “Sounds gross” and then “There’s only one way to find out.”
Immediately following those thoughts came “It is my Year of Living Curiously. Maybe I should just be brave and test it.” I even had mayo in the house, which I usually don’t. (I always have peanut butter.) So in the name of curiosity, I had a piece of toast for lunch with peanut butter and mayo on it.
Was it as good as “everyone says”? I couldn’t say. I don’t know how good it is supposed to be. What I can say is that it is not as gross as it sounds. I found it kind of nondescript, the mayo kind of diluting the distinctive flavor of the peanut butter. One thing, though, the mayo, being slippery, did make the peanut butter stick less to the roof of my mouth. That’s something, I suppose.
Sometimes the flow of conversation doesn’t make it easy to practice curiosity in an active way. That said, it can provide a forum for a gentle, ongoing kind of curiosity. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours talking with old friends (one of whom was the recipient of the somewhat failed birthday cake) in a lovely, rambling conversation, one topic leading to another. We listened to each other and asked questions in an unforced way. That, perhaps, too, counts as curiosity.
I’m taking a vacation from curiosity. It’s hot. I baked a birthday cake for a friend anyway. It didn’t turn out well (Julia Child’s words, “Never apologize” are ringing in my ears.) I’m taking a break today.
Warning–a long and fairly theory-rich post!
I found myself thinking about my tendency to see things in black and white terms–good/bad, desirable/undesirable, right/wrong. The funny thing is that I have always been able to see many sides to an issue, but I have also always known which side I came down on. And ultimately I reject the other side.
At the same time, I encourage my students and workshop participants to try to see actions or cultural dimensions in terms of advantages and disadvantages and preferences and priorities rather than good and bad, right and wrong.
AN INTERCULTURAL EXAMPLE
Individualism (a cultural dimension)
A few advantages of individualism: personal freedom with all the associated advantages to that like living where you want to, studying what you want to, dressing the way you want to, and less responsibility to other people (like personally taking care of your aging parents).
A few disadvantages of individualism: a negative attitude to people who need support which can make it impossible for some people to reach a level where they can take care of themselves and their closest family members as well as an emphasis on doing everything yourself and taking care of yourself without help, which can lead to exhaustion, burnout, and failure.
Collectivism (another cultural dimension, the counterpart to individualism)
A few advantages of collectivism: community support for the individuals in the group–a belief in helping people up, a belief that you don’t have to be everything and do everything by yourself, and an acknowledgement of a person’s place in the group that does not end because the person’s usefulness is gone.
A few disadvantages of collectivism: a lack of freedom to determine your own life’s path, which means you may be expected to take over the family business whether or not you are interested in it, or to marry based on what fits with your family, or to contribute to community charities not necessarily based on your own personal interests.
When I talk about preferences and priorities I mean that groups (culture is always a group phenomenon) over the generations jointly build up a system of beliefs and values based on what works for the group. This system has at its core certain preferences and priorities. These preferences and priorities are handed on to new members through the process of socialization. Culture clash happens when these underlying preferences and priorities are not in agreement, like when my Austrian students–working from a collectivist standpoint in this situation–look at the fight against universal healthcare in the U.S.A.–in most things a strongly individualist culture–and simply cannot comprehend why anyone would not want to have something that in their eyes is so obviously humane and beneficial to everyone.
On a less theoretical, more fun note: I’ve been re-reading Alexander McCall Smith’s wonderful series set in Botswana, The Nr. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The “traditional Botswana values” his heroine, Mma Ramotswe, keeps referring to are a beautiful example of collectivism, and the culture changes she sees–and disapproves of–are almost invariably individualistic.
THE POINT 😉
This morning it struck me that practicing this simple shift of seeing advantages and disadvantages rather than right and wrong is an exercise in curiosity and may open up a more constructive way of interacting with other people and with situations (part of my hypothesis, if you remember).
Although I’ve been doing this kind of analysis in the classroom for a number of years, I don’t do it very often in “real life”. In the context of writing this blog, I can imagine using it more often as a form of curiosity practice.
One final note: I’m not sure I would have reached this point if I hadn’t been writing this blog. This is the kind of progress that I hoped the daily commitment to writing about living curiously would help me make and I am very happy about this today.